Armed with medical supplies and hugs, 13 highly trained Columbia County volunteers left the county Friday morning to take hope and help to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Robert Crutchfield and Jan DeAsis, members of Columbia County's Community Emergency Response Team, load vans with equipment and supplies before the team left for Jackson, Miss., on Friday to offer medical and emergency assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The team is scheduled to return Saturday.
Photo by J. Scott Trubey
The first of two Columbia County Community Emergen-cy Response Teams departed for Jackson, Miss., on Friday, supplementing the massive aid forces already in place in the areas devastated by the Category 4 hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.
"They will work in a disaster area in Mississippi as a community relations team," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's director of emergency services. "They will work with victims to make sure ... their immediate needs are taken care of, such as water, food and any kind of medical treatment.''
After reporting to the State Emergency Operations Center in Jackson, the team was to receive its duty assignment for the week. Widespread damage and power outages in the area will limit the team's contact with home; however, on Monday, emergency officials in Columbia County received a report back from the team, which for the moment was staying in Philadelphia, Miss. and reported seeing isolated damage and no major problems with gasoline supplies.
"No doubt, from what we've seen on TV, it's one big giant mess," said John Tucker, a CERT member who is not related to the emergency services director, before leaving Friday. "We're just going down to help."
The team is relieving a Georgia Emergency Management Agency team that has worked in Mississippi since Sept. 2.
CERT formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Training is regulated by the federal government and, after seven weeks of courses, each member is tested before graduation. This team is trained for emergency preparedness, fire safety, first aid and disaster psychology, Pam Tucker said. Now, more than a week since Katrina struck, comforting the victims is critical, she said.
"They will be in desolate conditions," Tucker said. "They will see and hear some things that will be heavy on their hearts. They're going to have to give a lot of hugs. They are going to have to listen to these people's stories. They have the skills to do that, to hug people and tell them it's going to be OK."
The purpose of programs such as CERT is to respond to local emergencies, but after such a massive national tragedy, Kathryn Crutchfield, one of two nurses on the team, said she and her colleagues were compelled to offer their assistance. Two other members are EMTs, she said.
"We go wherever we're needed," she said. "We're all Americans. I think every American should help their fellow American in any way they can."
Crutchfield said her knowledge of what she expects to see has come from watching television news coverage and from her husband, Robert, a fellow team member.
"I think those people need us desperately no matter what we can do,'' she said. "I am very grateful to be going to help people."
Pam Tucker said community responders such as those in the CERT group are unique because unlike other aid groups, CERT members trained together. Often aid personnel from other organizations are not familiar with their team members, she said.
"They just graduated and finished less than two weeks ago," said Barry Wood, the husband of CERT volunteer Gwen Wood. "It's a selfless act. It's easy enough just to send money, but when you send your wife off ... she's the kind of person who's always thinking of others."
"This is probably one of the most enriching and satisfying types of things they have ever done in their lives," Tucker said. But she said, it will be emotionally trying and counseling will be available for CERT members on their return.
Columbia County is scheduling CERT classes in January for an additional 70 residents. There are 135 certified CERT members. Interested applicants must be 18 or older and residents of Columbia County. For more information, visit the county's Web site at www.columbiacountyga.gov.
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